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Jewish World Review Nov. 8, 1999 /27 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Mona Charen

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Hate-crimes laws make it more difficult to achieve convictions --
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE is a good liberal. As such, he is concerned always for feelings, preferably the kind that can be showcased, and not for facts. In a recent speech, he took Gov. George W. Bush to task for opposing hate-crimes legislation.

Gore conjured outrage: "How can he oppose hate-crimes legislation when we have black men being dragged to their deaths behind trucks, and gay men beaten and left to die on fences?" (I paraphrase.)

The audience boomed its agreement. The subtext of such remarks is clear enough: Those who oppose hate-crimes legislation are not really as outraged as we liberals about hate. There is something missing in their hearts. They are not good people.

Worse than such moral preening is the fact that hate-crimes legislation, far from inhibiting hate or even broadcasting our intolerance for intolerance, would instead further divide our already fractious nation.

A few facts: The people of Jasper, Texas, expressed their horror at the crime committed in their neighborhood. The killers who dragged James Byrd Jr. to his death were tried and convicted under state law and sentenced (justly, in my opinion) to death.

The two lowlifes who beat Matthew Shepard and left him to die tied to a fence have been pursued aggressively by Wyoming authorities. Russell Henderson escaped a possible death penalty by pleading guilty to kidnapping and murder. He is serving two life sentences. "The only way he is leaving there," the prosecutor said, "is in a box." Aaron McKinney was found guilty last week of second degree murder, kidnapping and felony murder and will also serve two life sentences.

So what would hate-crimes legislation add in these cases? You can't hang a man twice, once for the crime and again for the motive. Actually, hate-crimes laws might make it more difficult to achieve convictions in some cases, since prosecutors would have to prove the added element of motive.

But divining motive is a murky undertaking under the best of circumstances, and sending federal officials (hate-crimes laws would make all hate offenses federal crimes) probing into the hearts of criminals around the nation is bound to be problematic. Let's face it, what gets labeled a hate crime is a political, not a legal, judgment. When a white investment banker was raped and beaten by four black youths in New York's Central Park several years ago, no one described it as a hate crime. Yet white-on-black crimes are nearly always so designated.

Certainly the press highlights some crimes and downplays others depending upon the perceived political content of the crime. The story of Matthew Shepard's murder was front-page material and featured on all the television evening news shows for weeks. It was treated as a hate crime, though no evidence has been presented that the killers were motivated by anything other than greed and pure evil. Meanwhile, another crime involving homosexuals was virtually ignored.

In September, two Arkansas homosexuals raped and murdered a 13-year-old boy. The story ran in the local press but never made it to the national wire services or the evening news. Obviously, one man's crime does not implicate his entire group -- but equally as clearly, the media do not want to report anything that might put a favored group in an unfavorable light.

As constitutional lawyer Daniel Troy puts it: "The one thing Americans ought to unite on is opposition to crime. But hate-crimes legislation undermines that unity by giving certain groups victim status vis a vis others." Troy points out that among Dylan Klebold's many victims in Littleton, Colo., were one kid who was black, another who was a jock. "Had Klebold lived, should he have paid a different price for murdering one kid over another?"

Victim status is more coveted in modern America than wealth or power. Jews obsess over the Holocaust. Blacks still float "restitution for slavery" schemes. Homosexuals demand to be viewed as disproportionate victims of violence and hatred. Women claim to need affirmative action.

This is a demoralizing posture for a great nation. Making hate a federal crime will politicize law enforcement and create more injustice than it corrects.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate